School For Lies

Alison Fraser completes the cast for Classic Stage Company’s production of David Ives’ The School for Lies, adapted from Molière’s ‘The Misanthrope,’ and directed by Walter Bobbie.
The cast for The School for Lies also features Mamie Gummer (Celimene), Jenn Gambatese (Elainte), Hamish Linklater (Frank), Stephen Boyer (Dubois/Basque), Frank Harts (Clitander), Rick Holmes (Oronte), Hoon Lee (Philante) and Matthew Maher (Acaste)Alison Fraser (Arsinoe)
The School for Lies opens at CSC on 1 May 2011, following previews from 13 Apr, and run through to 22 May 2011.

Review of “Paraffin”

With Nicholson

Nicholson on the right

Paraffin, the second installment of Adam Rapp’s The Hallway Trilogy, is a powerhouse dark comedy depicting a handful of residents on the day of the 2003 New York City blackout. It is also a welcome reminder of Rapp’s strengths as a playwright. Whereas Rose, the first play in the trilogy, felt like a sprawling depiction of period and character, Paraffin is a cohesive journey that is unapologetically dystopic, romantic, and haunting. It is a play that actively seeks answers to the biggest questions in its characters’ lives, and offers a fierce, resounding conclusion that sticks with its audience long after leaving the theater.

Set fifty years after Rose, the L.E.S. tenement hallway has fallen into disrepair. One of the fluorescent lights is missing its cover, several of the apartment doors have been tagged with graffiti, and the windows above each doorway have been boarded up with mismatching plywood. This unsavory appearance is only accentuated by the technological “improvements” to the building, such as an emergency floodlight box mounted on the wall. In a fitting reference to the swell of internationally-owned property in contemporary New York, we learn that the building is now owned by an unseen Japanese businessman.

In Rapp’s depiction of the 1950s, there was a tangible, if forced, sense of community among the building’s residents. The city was their chosen home and folks were friendly toward one another. Here, however, one gets the sense that it is a harsh city and that everyone is foremost concerned with their own survival. Even courteous interchanges carry an underlying apprehension, as if the speakers are looking for the earliest opportunity to retreat back into seclusion.

The harshness of Rapp’s 2003 is brought front and center from the earliest moment, with junkie guitarist Denny Kellen lying unconscious outside his apartment door, half-naked and having soiled himself. A neighbor alerts his pregnant wife Margo, and she tries to get him off to work. She forces him to undress and clean in the hallway, upholding her prior ultimatum that he’s not allowed to enter the apartment until he’s sober. (Content note: There is full nudity and an all-too-realistic depiction of the mess he’s made.) He leaves her with a promise to set everything right, but instead sneaks into the apartment after she leaves to steal an old wedding present that might cover his debt to a Polish loan shark.

Before he can escape, he’s stopped by his brother Lucas, confined to a wheelchair after serving in Afghanistan. Lucas, we learn, holds a burning love for his sister-in-law and offers outright to kill Denny for the pain he causes. In the meantime, he delivers highly-articulate insults to anyone within earshot. This lands him in hot water with an Israeli married couple, obviously having a hard time building a life for themselves in America. As the neighbors’ confrontation hits its height, the electricity cuts out.

By this point, Rapp has effectively shifted all focus from the circumstance of the play (the theater’s press release lets us know the blackout is coming) to the intensely personal trials of its characters. The result is that the blackout occurs as unexpectedly for us as for those on stage, certainly no easy task.

Without revealing details, Rapp goes on to explore how the darkness can create a skewed reality where no one is held accountable, and the ways in which people take advantage. The truths that someone might confess, or the actions they’d never otherwise take. The fleeting sense of camaraderie among strangers.  The play’s extended blackout scene paints a multi-dimensional picture of human nature that is continually surprising, and absolutely compelling to watch.

Direction by Daniel Aukin is stellar throughout, both utilizing the rhythm of the text and finding extended movement sequences to craft a fully realized, mesmerizing production. The acting company shines here, more so than in Rose, perhaps a result of Paraffin’s contemporary resonance. Particularly noteworthy are Nick Lawson as the charming yet brutal gangster Leshik, Julianne Nicholson as the conflicted mother-to-be Margo, Jeremy Strong as the invalid veteran Lucas, and William Apps as the tragically incomplete Denny.

Set design by Beowulf Boritt and costumes by Jessica Pabst continue to shine. Lighting design by Tyler Micoleau is stunning. Sound design by Eric Shimelonis lends a strong sense of the chaos raging in the streets outside.